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Current crises: Emergency, curfew social media ban, no solutions -SJB

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‘SLPP’s half-witted response admission of defeat’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman, MP yesterday asked whether the cash-strapped government could address public grievances, or manage the rapidly deteriorating crisis, by imposing curfew, or issuing extraordinary gazette notifications.

Colombo MP Rahuman said that there hadn’t been a previous instance of a government issuing an extra ordinary gazette notification prohibiting the public from being on roads, public parks, public recreation grounds or any other public ground, railway tracks or the seashore.

In a brief interview with The Island, in the wake of the declaration of a State of Emergency, Rahuman alleged that the government had lost its bearings.

Last Thursday’s violence, on the approach to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence, at Pangiriwatte Road, Mirihana, meant the irate public were on the offensive and couldn’t be turned back by blocking social media platforms.

Referring to a request by the Defence Ministry to relevant public and private sector officials to temporarily restrict access to social media platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, instagram, twitter and YouTube, lawmaker Rahuman asked how the truth could be suppressed by such silly measures.

Responding to another query, the former UNPer said that the government’s half-witted response unwittingly gave recognition to the countrywide public protest campaign announced by social media groups late last week.

MP Rahuman said that the Mirihana protest, that shook the government, close on the heels of the announcement regarding Sunday’s protest, compelled the Rajapaksa administration to declare a state of emergency. The outspoken lawmaker emphasised that the massive eruption of violence at the Mirihana protest hadn’t been an isolated incident but one of many that underlined the growing public anger at the way the current dispensation managed the country.

“Protests erupted at Mahagasthota, Nuwara Eliya last Friday when Shiranthi Rajapaksa arrived there to inaugurate the month-long holiday season. How could the government allow such an event with the participation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wife at a time the country was in such a mess,” lawmaker Rahuman asked.

MP Rahuman pointed out that in a way, the government, by imposing the curfew, had acknowledged the severity of the crises and its inability to respond to the situation. Alleging that the government, on the advice of the SLFP, called a so-called All-Party Conference (APC) to divert public attention from the real issues, MP Rahuman said that the trouble-ridden government was incapable of handling the issues at hand. The SJB boycotted the APC.

The MP said that regardless of curfew there had been protests in several towns, including Piliyandala and Ambalangoda, where people came onto streets. The MP responded to The Island queries, hours before the SJB staged a protest at the Independence Square yesterday afternoon against what it termed efforts to suppress public rights. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa led the protest. SJB members lambasted the police for interfering in their protest.

The lawmaker said that the government’s silly response meant it hadn’t realized the ground situation or taken into consideration concerns expressed by SLPP dissident group or some other members of the government parliamentary group, even after the Mirihana eruption. How could the SLPP expect to resolve the crises by news blackouts? Rahuman asked, drawing the government’s attention to a serious shortage of essential items, including food, medicine and fuel.

Asked whether the SJB would cooperate with the government to address the crises, MP Rahuman said that the current dispensation didn’t command the public confidence. The MP questioned the use of such an exercise against the backdrop of an 11-party dissident group calling for the immediate dissolution of the Cabinet to pave the way for an interim administration. The MP noted another State Minister has declared his intention to give up the portfolio on May Day. He was referring to a statement issued by State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, SLPP MP representing the Polonnaruwa district.

Referring to a statement issued by an organization called Sinhala Sanvidhana Ekamuthuwa (SSE) hours after the incidents at Mirihana, lawmaker Rahuman said that contrary to government claims, the SSE declared the vast majority of those who gathered there backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the presidential and parliamentary polls, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Having brushed aside Opposition criticism of its strategy, the SLPP ended up with egg on its face, MP Rahuman said. “The Mirihana eruption couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the government,” MP Rahuman said, warning the SLPP public couldn’t be deceived by reducing power cuts.

The SJB spokesperson said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office that Power Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi had been instructed to reduce power cuts, effective April 3, in the wake of the CEB receiving diesel stocks, exposed how the SLPP played politics at every available opportunity. What the PM’s Office conveniently didn’t say was that Sri Lanka received 40,000 mt of diesel on Saturday (2) in terms of USD 500 mn credit line, MP Rahuman said. Therefore, power cuts could be reduced but for how long, MP Rahuman asked, pointing out that the current overwhelming crises couldn’t be overcome by deceiving the public.

The forthcoming debate in Parliament on the IMF report would explain why people gathered outside the President’s residence. The SJB conducted the first protest outside the President’s residence on March 05th, MP Rahuman said, adding that the SLPP couldn’t wriggle out of the current problems.

Lawmaker Rahuman declared that the SLPP never recovered from unbelievably short-sighted decision to ban use of fertilizer and agrochemicals. The government could have easily reversed its decision the moment it realised its folly, MP Rahuman said. Instead, the government ordered carbonic fertiliser from China and ended up paying USD 6.7 mn for a rejected consignment while more foreign reserves were spent on liquid fertiliser from India, the MP said. Today, the public were aware how those in authoritative positions exploited the fertiliser fiasco to their advantage, Rahuman said.



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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